Britain’s Brutal Immigration Detention System

07 Sep 2017
Immigration detention and the abuses related to it get far less attention than they should. This is largely because it concerns immigrants and, in the current toxic state of the debate around mmigration, it is hard to excite public and media concern. That makes it even more praiseworthy that the BBC devoted a whole Panoramaprogramme to the shocking and brutal conditions in Brook House detention centre. Even those of us who thought we knew about the abuses in immigration detention were saddened and horrified.
Through the eyes of a young officer and with the help of covert filming we saw the verbal abuse, physical abuse and drug abuse which was rife in Brooke House. But perhaps the most shocking thing was how the  G4S officers no longer seemed to see the detainees as human beings deserving of sympathy, and how routine the abuse had become.
The most important thing to remember about immigration detention is that was never meant to be long term. I was an MP when the legislation was introduced in the 1990s. Parliament was assured that detention would only be for a matter of months. When some of us raised the lack of safeguards and due process, ministers insisted that this detention would be very short term indeed.
But the truth is that, almost from the beginning, detention has been for much longer periods of time than Parliament originally envisaged.
Last year over 200 immigration detainees were detained for over a year. One case examined by Panorama concerned a detainee who had been held in Brook House for over two years. Interviewed by the film maker, Lord Ramsbotham a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, stressed that it was the unforeseen length of the periods of detention which was part of the problem. Strikingly the UK is the only EU country which does not put a time limit on detention.
In 2015 following a string of scandals in detention centres, including the deaths of Jimmy Mubenga and Christine Case, there was a Parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention. This was soon followed in 2016 by a Home Office commissioned review into the welfare of vulnerable persons in detention, conducted by Stephen Shaw OBE, the former prisons and probation ombudsman for England and Wales.
He recommended a series of exemptions for vulnerable immigration detainees, including, for victims of rape and other sexual or gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation; for those with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder; for transsexual people; for pregnant women; for those with learning difficulties; and for those with mental health problems. Over a year later the government have shown no real movement on implementing these important recommendations or those from the earlier Parliamentary inquiry. Both reports agreed that there must be a time limit for detention - a maximum of 28 days. Labour
MPs like my colleague Paul Blomfield MP have long called for an end to indefinite detention.
It does not help their case that it appears the Home Office have something to hide. In 2015, the UN’s rapporteur on violence against women was denied access to Yarl’s Wood, Britain’s largest, most controversial immigration detention centre for women. And in my capacity as Shadow Home Secretary I have made repeated requests directly to the Minister for Immigration and have received no response as to when I might be granted access.
The Home Office has long been aware of improper conduct by G4S staff and other private companies such as Serco who operate in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Yet this Tory Government continue to sign off millions of pounds worth of contracts to these companies.
The reason this Tory government has not reformed immigration detention is because it is all part and parcel of Theresa May’s vision of a ‘hostile environment’.  The notion being that if individuals were detained in this way - quietly, contrary to any due process and with no consideration of their human rights - it would somehow deter others from seeking to come here as immigrants and asylum seekers.
More than half of all immigration detainees are eventually released and allowed to remain in the UK, which raises the question of why it was necessary to deprive them of their liberty in the first place.
Conditions in Brook House, as revealed in the Panorama programme, are shameful. It may have been G4S guards carrying out the brutal acts, but it is this government that is ultimately responsible.

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